Cool Runnings: 10 Expert Tips for Running in the Cold

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By Stuart

Avid runner. 10x marathons. Daily 10kms. Award-winning journalist when not moving (about me)

For many people, running outdoors is far less appealing in winter.

Your alarm goes off for a morning jog, it’s baltic, dark, let alone the thought of running in the rain, snow, sleet or gales to deal with. I get it. But it doesn’t need to be that way.

Running’s beauty is it’s a year-round sport. Winter runs are also the most rewarding.

There’s the majestic white landscapes. Crisp, cleansing air. More peaceful running routes. Better sunsets and sunrises. The reward of a hot meal. Even the chance of it snowing on your run. I’m a big believer in running in the cold as my recent running tour of Olso testifies!

Hard winter yards are also when stamina is formed. And just like cold water swimming, cold weather running strengthens your immune system, boosts blood flow and reduces inflammation, swelling, and sore muscles.

So, resist the temptation to bunker down and hang up your running shoes for a few months.

Follow my cold weather running tips to make this winter running season your best yet…

Cold Weather Runs: How to Enjoy Running in the Cold

#1: Wrap Up Warm When Cold Weather Running

As the old saying goes: there’s no such thing as bad weather, only unsuitable clothing.

The correct winter running gear can fend off wind chill, keep you dry, and safe.

The secret is keeping your fingers, toes and head warm, and layering up.

To do so I recommend the following winter running gear:

  • Gore tex running shoes with traction
  • Merino wool zip fleece
  • Head band or warm hat
  • Wool socks
  • Mittens or lightweight gloves
  • A reflective vest

Be sure to avoid cotton as it absorbs moisture and holds damp against your body. Opt opt for synthetic materials such as wool or polyester instead.

For the extreme cold you might also consider:

  • Running tights
  • Hand warmers
  • Neck gaiter or breathable balaclava

The last item on that list might seem overkill, but wearing a scarf around your mouth can stop the burn in your lungs. It acts as a filter, humidifying the air before it’s inhaled into your lungs.

Related Reading: Ultimate Tips for Running in the Snow and Ice

#2: See & Be Seen With Running Lights

Given the low visibility during winter conditions, don’t be afraid to wear bright colours and reflective running gear.

Putting on your most reflective, fluorescent items can be an instant mood booster too.

I’ve recently invested in a low-cost running headlight. Not only does it help to dodge big puddles and icy patches, but it’s also a surefire way for others to see you.

Another top tip as temps dip is to keep your cell phone close to your body – as batteries can freeze in extreme winter conditions. Many running jackets have a dedicated pocket for cell phones and for storing your keys when on an outdoor run.

#3: Warm Up Before a Cold Weather Run

As temperatures drop it’s important to promote blow flow pre-run and warm your muscles up.

Running on cold days is hard enough, but frigid temperatures mixed with cold muscles can be a recipe for injury.

A few jumping jacks, leg swings or donkey kicks can work wonders. What’s best, as on-the-spot exercises, you can do them indoors before you venture out in the cold.

Then, as soon as you head out the door, start running. Don’t allow your body to cool-down.

#4: Go Easy On Pace & Distance

One of the biggest benefits of winter running is to ready the body for more intense exercises in the warmer months. Build your base on two fronts: stamina and endurance.

While stamina is key for sprinting, endurance is required for longer distances.

Getting out there whatever the weather is so much easier if you focus on long-term goals, such as a summer marathon or a ‘Couch to 5km‘ program. The key is getting out at all.

Form follows function when you run more often, so you’ll find doing so benefits your running technique too. The new PB can wait.

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#5: Stay Hydrated When Running in Colder Months

Hot beverages instantly come to mind when thinking about the cold weather, however it’s important to stay on top of your water intake too.

Your body won’t crave ice-cold water like you do in the heat, so you’ll need to be disciplined. Don’t rely on thirst to tell you when you need to drink water.

As I mentioned earlier, hydration and moisture also helps you to stop the burn felt in your lungs when running on a cold day.

If you run first thing in the morning, drink eight ounces of water when you wake up to reduce natural dehydration.

During your run, aim to consume 16 ounces of water for every hour you are running.

#6: What to Eat When Running in the Cold

Nothing beats warm foods before, during and after a freezing cold run.

As carrying a hot beverage or soup is not entirely practical, it’s important you develop a more disciplined pre-run routine. Complex carbohydrates should be eaten 24 hours before exercise. Soups, sandwiches, pasta, baked potatoes, peanut butter, meat and cheeses.

Best Hadrian's Wall snacks - Maximuscle energy bar

For the run itself, pack a snack to replenish carbohydrate stores which are being used to warm up. You’re likely to crash if you don’t replace this energy. The best winter months snacks are energy bars, trail mix bars, fruit, bagels, and the like.

You could always include a cheeky pit stop at you favorite coffee shop mid-run too!

#7: Factor in the Best Wind Direction

There’s nothing worse than icy cold wind and rain blasting you in the face for longer than it needs to.

If wind’s in the weather forecast choose a loop route, with the wind on your back on the return leg. Not only is it more pleasant and easier to finish, it helps you to avoid worse wind chill on a sweaty face.

Keep in mind: exposed skin is especially vulnerable to snow and strong gales. A breathable balaclava will be your friend when running in blizzard conditions.

Start with Why: Motivation Tips for Running in the Cold

#8: Know Your Inner Reason for Running in Winter

Running everyday in the cold requires discipline, so remember why you’re doing it.

It could be for better overall fitness, improved mental health, escapism, to lose weight, or something else altogether. Keep that reason front of mind.

For me, it’s to satisfy my sense of adventure.

I love nothing more than being a home tourist on morning runs. Finding new routes. Mixing up my usual jogging routine. Embracing detours. Chasing magical winter sunrises. Cleaning up my neighborhood by plogging. Feeling the fresh air on my face. Running all year round makes me happy.

#9: Get Yourself a Running Buddy

When motivation is wavering, a jogging partner or new running group can provide added incentive to head out. Pairing up also makes it safer to run in the dark.

Your new running buddy needn’t be with you in person. Having a virtual accountability partner reinforces your commitment to your running goals, both shared and individual.

If you’re on the lookout for a new running buddy, I’d suggest checking out your local road runners club or the Jogging Buddy app – an online running community with members in 100 countries around the world. For example, at the last check I found 102 members within 5 miles of my hometown of York, UK.

Another tip is to join attend your local parkrun every Saturday, plus a bonus parkrun on Christmas Day.

Post-run: Look After Your Core Body Temperature After Running in the Cold

#10: Quickly Change Out of Wet Clothes After a Cold Weather Run

Just as you can heat up fast when you start running, your core temperature drops when you stop.

To avoid developing a cold, change out of your running gear as soon as you can. Make a hot shower your immediate reward.

Don’t forget your next run: lining your running shoes with newspaper can dry them out. Your future self will thank you!

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Get more from your runs. More joy. Better adventures. Faster times.